Reshuffled Super Rugby Pacific draw to test New Zealand franchises

Super Rugby Pacific organisers on Thursday announced new dates for four matches involving New Zealand sides that were postponed due to COVID-19.

The match between the Hurricanes and Chiefs has been rescheduled for April 3, while the Highlanders will face Moana Pasifika on April 8. The Hurricanes' game against Moana Pasifika will take place on April 12 and the Crusaders will face the Blues on April 15.

Two other matches have been rejigged to accommodate the rescheduled fixtures.

It sets up a hectic schedule for all of New Zealand's franchises, starting with the Blues and Moana Pasifika who will play three games each in eight and nine days, two against each other, from this Friday and Saturday respectively.

The two sides were due to face each other in Round 1, before that match became the first Super Rugby Pacific game postponed because of New Zealand's COVID-19 outbreak.

"We've only named one team but we've got a plan for what happens ahead," Blues coach Leon MacDonald said of his side's testing upcoming run.

"I've learnt that things change quickly in this environment and we have to be adaptable. We have a plan in place, and we need to put three really good performances in over this next week, so trying to get that right mix is really important."

In a rare piece of good news for New Zealand rugby, the government this week lifted crowd restrictions at stadiums, although they will come too late for Moana Pasifika's game with the Hurricanes on Friday.

"Confirmation of these matches provides certainty for our players, coaches, fans and venues as we make a welcome shift into something close to normal transmission," Chris Lendrum, New Zealand Rugby's head of professional rugby, said.

"We will welcome fans back into our stadiums over the next week and now we can also celebrate confirmation of a full draw."

Player welfare had been a concern for competition organisers, particularly with players suffering different effects of the virus, resulting in varied return-to-play timeframes.

Still, Lendrum said the players had been at the forefront of considerations when the draw was being shuffled.

"We believe we've landed in a good place and all six New Zealand-based teams have remained committed to ensuring all matches are played," he said. "Although the teams have lost their scheduled bye rounds through rounds 7 to 9, those rest periods have been compensated by the weeks off created by the postponements.

"Our clubs were united in wanting to play all of their matches, compete hard for competition points and ultimately playoff berths. They were also confident they could manage their squads through the balance of the competition to ensure players were in peak form for the finals."

"Moana Pasifika has, unfortunately, been most impacted with two Tuesday-Saturday match weeks, but to this point have also played the least rugby with just two matches and I know the club can't wait to get some more regular game time in their inaugural season in Super Rugby Pacific."

Meanwhile, Waratahs coach Darren Coleman has entered isolation in Sydney as a close contact of a COVID case. He will not travel to Brisbane for his side's game against the Reds on Saturday.

Rescheduled matches

Round 7

Sunday, 3 April: Hurricanes v Chiefs, Sky Stadium, Wellington, 3.35pm [Postponed from RD 5]

Round 8

Friday, 8 April: Highlanders v Moana Pasifika, Forsyth Barr Stadium, 7.05pm [Postponed from RD 5]

Saturday, 9 April: Hurricanes v Crusaders, Sky Stadium, Wellington, 4.35pm [Moved from Friday 8 April]

Round 9

Tuesday, 12 April: Hurricanes v Moana Pasifika, Sky Stadium, Wellington, 7.05pm [Postponed from RD 4]

Friday, 15 April: Crusaders v Blues, Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch, 7.05pm [Postponed from RD 5]

Saturday, 16 April: Chiefs v Moana Pasifika, FMG Stadium, Waikato, 4.35pm [Moved from Friday 15 April]